Regarding Free Will and Omniscience, can we as Catholics take the Aristotelian explanation?

The following is the Aristotelian position as explained by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is used as an explanation to reconcile how humans can be free even with God’s omniscience.

One response to the dilemma of infallible foreknowledge and free will is to deny that the proposition T has a truth value because no proposition about the contingent future has a truth value. This response rejects the terms in which the problem is set up. The idea behind this response is usually that propositions about the contingent future become true when and only when the event occurs that the proposition is about. If the event does not occur at that time, then the proposition becomes false. This seems to have been the position of Aristotle in the famous Sea Battle argument of De Interpretatione IX, where Aristotle is concerned with the implications of the truth of a proposition about the future, not the problem of infallible knowledge of the future. But some philosophers have used Aristotle’s move to solve the dilemma we are addressing here. In the recent literature this position has been defended by J.R. Lucas (1989), Richard Purtill (1988), and Joseph Runzo (1981). More recently D.K. Johnson (2009) has taken up this solution to both logical and theological fatalism, relating this solution to presentism, the position that only the present exists.

At the Congregatio de Auxiliis (Catholic Encyclopedia Link, Wikipedia Link), the Jesuits and the Dominicans fiercely debated the nature of Grace and Free Will: the Jesuits advocated for Molinism, the Dominicans for their own position.

The debate ended with both sides being permitted to advocate for their own philosophical position and forbidden from condemning the other.

My question is whether we can take the Aristotelian position I outlined above and if not, what Church teachings say that we cannot.

I’m not sure that I understand exactly what is being said here. However, the way that I am reading it is that future events are not true, which to me implies that they are unknowable, until they happen. In which case, God does not have infallible foreknowledge because he doesn’t know what choices we will make using our freewill.

If I am understanding that correctly, I would say that that is not consistent with Catholic theology, or any Christian theology. I think a prime example of why it wouldn’t be consistent is that it doesn’t account for the many prophecies recorded in the Old Testament that come true either later in the OT, or the New Testament. God gives many prophetic statements in the Old Testament, that were recorded at that time, but were not fulfilled until hundreds of years later. But it seems to me that this philosophy basically says that God had no idea for sure what would happen. It is also stating that when God gave any prophecy, the words that were spoken had no truth value. That it also incompatible with Christianity.

Hello spiderweb. Thank you for your response.

Regarding the question of future events being unknowable, I think the Aristotelian position means God knows everything that could happen so he still has future knowledge.

Regarding the issue of prophecies and infallible foreknowledge, I think that they still retain truth value as an objective that God is promising to accomplish or as a consequence that will happen as a result of actions. So when God promises to raise up a savior from the branch of Jesse, he is saying that regardless of what humans choose, He will intervene in their affairs so as to bring about a savior. Additionally, when God tells Jonah to pronounce the destruction of Nineveh unless they repent, God is saying that either by His own hand or, possibly, because of the Ninevites own unrepentant choices, destruction will be brought to bear on Ninevah. In other words, God, with his knowledge of everything that could happen, promises to bring about a certain state of affairs or is warning us about the consequences of our own actions.

I’m not exactly sure what is being said here either like spiderweb said. But I think what spiderweb says about his way of reading it is correct, namely, future contingent events are unknowable with any certainty as future until they happen. St Thomas Aquinas addressing this problem in the Summa Theologica, First Part, Q. 14, art. 13 ‘Whether the knowledge of God is of future contingent things?’

Essentially, St Thomas says that a future contingent that is not necessitated to only one determined effect such as human free will acts cannot be known with certainty as future contingents or in their own or proximate cause. St Thomas has recourse to God’s eternity or what is called the knowledge of vision as to how God can know with certainty future contingent events which means that God sees all future contingents in their presentiality or in act. God’s eternity encompasses the whole of time.

From the ST, Q. 14, art. 13:

I answer that, Since as was shown above (Article 9), God knows all things; not only things actual but also things possible to Him and creature; and since some of these are future contingent to us, it follows that God knows future contingent things.

In evidence of this, we must consider that a contingent thing can be considered in two ways; first, in itself, in so far as it is now in act: and in this sense it is not considered as future, but as present; neither is it considered as contingent (as having reference) to one of two terms, but as determined to one; and on account of this it can be infallibly the object of certain knowledge, for instance to the sense of sight, as when I see that Socrates is sitting down. In another way a contingent thing can be considered as it is in its cause; and in this way it is considered as future, and as a contingent thing not yet determined to one; forasmuch as a contingent cause has relation to opposite things: and in this sense a contingent thing is not subject to any certain knowledge. Hence, whoever knows a contingent effect in its cause only, has merely a conjectural knowledge of it.

(continued from the Summa)

Now God knows all contingent things not only as they are in their causes, but also as each one of them is actually in itself. And although contingent things become actual successively, nevertheless God knows contingent things not successively, as they are in their own being, as we do but simultaneously. The reason is because His knowledge is measured by eternity, as is also His being; and eternity being simultaneously whole comprises all time, as said above (I:10:2). Hence all things that are in time are present to God from eternity, not only because He has the types of things present within Him, as some say; but because His glance is carried from eternity over all things as they are in their presentiality. Hence it is manifest that contingent things are infallibly known by God, inasmuch as they are subject to the divine sight in their presentiality; yet they are future contingent things in relation to their own causes.

Also see Fr. William Most’s book ‘Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions’. This is an excellent book and he devotes a whole part to divine foreknowledge (Part IV) and the opinions of the various theologians and theological schools in the tradition and history of the Church and especially the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas.

Link to book:

That is what you are saying, but that is not what the quote and link you provided is saying.

From our perspective it may be true that the contingent future does not have a truth value, but from God’s perspective, all things are present in eternity and there is no contingent future. From God’s perspective, the “unless” statements are not contradictory and they are certainties. Both sides of the “unless” are both true and have a truth value otherwise God would be a liar.

I don’t disagree with what you stated, but I don’t think that what you stated is in agreement with the Aristotelian view as it is presented in the link.

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